Friday, April 25, 2014

New Blues For You - Spring, 2014 Edition (Part 2)

I told you a few weeks ago that there were some great new blues releases that were worth your attention.  This week, we will be looking a few more of them, with more to come in the next few weeks.....there are that many great new albums out there to hear and I am still working through a bunch of them.  FBF is strongly encouraging all of you to check these out at your earliest convenience.  As always, you will be able to read more about each of these (and many others) in future issues of the best online blues CD review source available.....Blues Bytes.

Solomon King - Train (JLM, Inc.):  I have always enjoyed King's brand of blues, which mixes soul, funk, and rock in pretty equal doses, and it works really well this time around.  The music is great, with blues rockers, country-flavored blues, soulful ballads, etc......King's songs are impressive and his guitar work is great.  Vocally, he has a lot of soul, sometimes sounding like a blues version of Lou Reed.  You may not know who he is, but chances are you've heard his music before, as he's had a couple of songs that were featured on the HBO series, True Blood, a few years back.  To me, Train is the best album he's done so far.....probably the best expression of his musical vision to date.

Cathy Lemons - Black Crow (VizzTone):  Ms. Lemons is regarded as a blues legend in the San Francisco Bay area, where she has entertained audiences for over 25 years.  She brings a soulful and understated vocal style to the plate, a welcome relief from the screamers that usually pack them in these days.  She's adept at blues, soul, country, and gospel styles and her new release features her tackling all of those genres and more.  She wrote most of the tracks, but also adds four effective cover tunes from the O'Kanes, Earl King, Kim Wilson, and James Brown (now THAT'S diverse, folks).  As I said, I really like her voice and I wish some of these up-and-coming blues singers would listen and learn from her approach.  Good stuff.

Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers - Live at Buddy Guy's Legends Chicago:  Fuller has been around with his Bluesrockers since 1974, with some critically acclaimed releases dating back to the 80's.  Currently, he's a headliner at Legends on Saturday nights and he blows audiences away with his slide guitar and gritty vocals.  Last year, about this time (April, 2013), he captured one of his powerhouse shows at Legends for public consumption (with the esteemed Mr. Guy in attendance), and now those not familiar with Fuller and band can see (or hear) what all the fuss is about.  This is what a live album should sound like, gang.  It's absolutely relentless with a few well-chosen covers from Fuller's influences like Elmore James, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Billy Boy Arnold, and Eddie Clearwater, plus some pretty good originals that mix well with the classics.  Blues-rock fans definitely need to get their hands on this one.  Now, here's a bit of Fuller in action to give you an idea of what to expect.

John Lyons - Sing Me Another Song:  The first thing you will notice about this guy is that he has a real knack for catchy hooks and melodies.  You will find yourself humming a lot of these tunes after the fact.  He's not just adept at playing the blues, but he also dabbles in rock, pop, and soul.  I can see Lyons moving into several different genres with relative ease.  His songwriting deals mostly with various affairs of the heart and his soulful delivery makes great songs sound even greater.  Lyon is a Michigan native who relocated to Switzerland over a decade ago, and over time he has developed into a fine singer/songwriter.  With any luck, this fine release will get the attention it deserves.

Bob Corritore - Taboo (Delta Groove):  Last year, harmonica wizard Corritore appeared on discs with John Primer and Dave Riley.  This year, he will be issuing this excellent all-instrumental harp showcase on April 25th.  Joining him on many of these tracks are a premium list of musicians including Jimmie Vaughan, Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan, Papa John DeFrancesco, and Doug James.  There's plenty of diversity in these tracks, which lets Corritore cover a lot of ground and he's more than up to the task, so the excitement never lets up.  Harp fans will dig it for sure, but there's some mighty fine music here that will appeal to a lot of folks.

Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne - Rollin' With The Blues Boss (Stony Plain):  I'm always glad to see a new release from a blues piano man.  The past few months, we've had several keepers from artists like The Claudettes, Arthur Migliazza, and this one from Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne.  Wayne is a monster piano player, moving effortlessly from boogie woogie to old-school rock & roll to the down home blues.  He has a great voice and gets some solid assistance from Eric Bibb and Diunna Greenleaf on selected tracks.  This is a highly enjoyable set and fans of blues piano need to seek this one out.  It will remind longtime blues fans of those classic piano blues tunes of the old days.


I told you......some fantastic new music that covers a broad range of blue styles.  In a few weeks, we'll be looking at several more recordings.  There's still plenty of springtime left for more New Blues For You.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It's All About Respect

B.B. King at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis on April 4

Imagine're traveling across the country in a bus, beginning at one end of the country and weaving your way to the other end, stopping every couple of days to make public appearances and give a performance to a huge crowd of people.  Imagine that you're also dealing with a few health issues, like Type 2 Diabetes or high blood pressure or poor circulation while you're on this journey.  Imagine having to sleep either in the bus or in a different hotel every night while you're doing this.  Got it?  Good.  Now, imagine that you're doing all this, plus you're five months away from YOUR 89th BIRTHDAY!!!

B.B. King made the news last week when a St. Louis Dispatch article was published that reviewed a recent performance at the Peabody Opera House.  The article stated that King was nearly 45 minutes into the show before he played a song, talking incoherently and inaudibly at times, flirting with ladies in the front rows, then playing somewhat erratically, forgetting lyrics here and there, and launching into a 15-minute singalong of "You Are My Sunshine."  By that time, the article read, some in attendance began to heckle, shout out requests, shout encouragement, and even leave the performance.  King rebounded after a few minutes and launched into "The Thrill Is Gone," but he only played a couple more songs before calling it a night.

Looking at comments on some of the various pages that ran the article (which was not a mean-spirited story at all....very fair-minded), most fans were understanding, some were a bit frustrated, and a few were aggravated.  King's management released a statement earlier this week, explaining that the Peabody show was King's first in about a month (also pointed out in the article), that he had driven 24 hours from his home in Las Vegas to the gig, and that he had forgotten to take his diabetes medication before he left.

There have been other notes about King in recent months, even a column about a Dallas gig late last year that had some of the same issues, but that's not really what I wanted to talk about today.

Since the 1950's, King has performed almost non-stop, only slacking up during the past couple of years.  Even in the early 90's, when he was first diagnosed with diabetes, he rarely slowed down because he was giving the people what they inspired performance every night.  Diabetes is a challenge to keep in check even when you're at home monitoring what you eat and drink closely.  I can't imagine how hard it would be when you're on the road most of the time and keeping odd hours all the time.

I finally got to see King about ten years ago, at a local show honoring Medgar Evers.  The show was poorly publicized and there were only about 250 to 300 people, at the most, present in a 1,000-seat venue.  King performed like he was at Caesar's Palace, for over two hours.  He sat for most of the concert, and he clowned a little bit, doing the shimmy dance in his chair, carrying on with his band members and a few in the audience, but he brought the blues with him and he and his band hit the ball right out of the park that night.  What's even cooler was that he had a meet-and-greet that afternoon, signing autographs, shaking hands, and chit chatting with adoring fans.  I also need to mention that this was Mississippi in June, so you're looking at 90+ degrees with about 1,000% humidity.  At this point, I can't remember the exact date or year, but he was pushing eighty and you never would have known it by the way he conducted himself.

Listen, I turned fifty last year and by the end of the work week, I'm ready to go to bed on Fridays at the MORNING.  I can't imagine pulling a 40 hour work week when I'm pushing ninety years old!!  Yet, B.B. King still does that during certain times of the year, and his work week sometimes involves driving several hundred miles in a 24-hour period, then playing music for a couple of hours after meeting and greeting fans.

Sure, there's a good chance that King is nearly the end of the road as far as relentless touring goes.  He may be to the point where he has to consider sharing a bill with someone, maybe splitting time onstage, maybe cutting back to a couple of shows a month.  All that is highly possible.....sad to think about, but highly possible.

Whatever he decides to do, as a blues fan (and a B.B. King fan), I am cool with it.  He has more than earned the right to take a step or two back if he wants, just like he's earned the right to have an off-night occasionally, or have a few minutes during a performance that makes you scratch your head.  Regardless of what he does at a performance, whether somebody pays $75 to $100 a ticket or whatever......PLEASE DO NOT BOO OR HECKLE B.B. KING!!!!  He's EIGHTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD, for goodness sake, and he's gone above and beyond in giving us over 65 YEARS of great music and performances.

King has provided entertainment for blues and music fans since the late 40's and is still showing up for work giving it his all when many people his age (those who are still with us) are either in assisted living or are basically housebound.  People need to realize going in that an off night might be in the works, given what we know.  It's more about the opportunity to see and interact with a living legend.  That alone is worth $75 to $100 to most blues fans.  If you're not among them, maybe you should stay at home and listen to a CD of King's instead of sitting in the audience and holding a man up to higher standards than most people hold themselves to.

At the same time, maybe the people who work with King, his management and his support, could take a few things into consideration......his age, his health, his stamina.....and maybe step back a little bit on, say, ticket prices or number of performances or size of venues or length of performances.  Maybe the band, who reportedly seemed a bit bewildered by things that were happening last week, could step up and give him a little support, maybe bail him out when he gets bogged down.  That would definitely help him a lot.  He's earned the right to play as long as he wants and I'm not sure what he would do if he wasn't able to do that anymore. Hopefully, he won't ever get the chance to find out, and neither will we.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The "Big" Little Blues Festival

Many years ago, when I first started listening to the blues, I used to do my best to attend as many blues festivals as I could.  I did manage to go to several really good ones....the Delta Blues Festival in Greenville, MS, the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival in Chunky, MS, Jubilee Jam in Jackson, MS, and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival always had a few good blues bands on their schedule.  I don't get to attend many events these days.....there always seems to be another event of some kind, related to daily living, that conflicts with my plans, but even though I don't always get to attend these events, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn't encourage you to check out some of them for a number of reasons.  (1)  It's a great opportunity to see some of your favorites in action, (2)  It's a great opportunity to see some acts that you're not familiar with that you may want to hear more from, (3)  Meet and bond with some fellow blues lovers (always a good thing), and (4) to see for yourselves that the blues is still alive and thriving.

This weekend is the 11th annual Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, MS, a combination blues festival and town fair, and all about the culture of the Mississippi Delta.  There are over 100 blues acts featured during the weekend.  During the day on Saturday, April 12th, there are 12 small stages featuring blues talent from all over the Delta, and at night, each of Clarksdale's juke joints, blues clubs, and other venues feature various bands, so there's plenty of blues to be found.  There are also exhibits, vendors, and presentations featuring Delta music, art, storytelling, movies, and even activities for children.  There's even a 5K and 8K run and a mechanical bull this year.

For a complete list of events, and there is an unbelievable amount of activities going on, you can go here.  The events during the day are FREE and the Saturday evening activities (at over 20 different venues) can all be accessed by purchasing a wristband for $20 and can be bought via Paypal and picked at the event on Saturday.

Here's a partial list of the acts that will be performing at the nighttime venues......Mark "Muleman" Massey, Big Dave McClean, Elmo Williams, Hezekiah Early & Lil Poochie, Jake Leg Stompers, Rip Lee Pryor, Leo "Bud" Welch, Stan Street, Louis "Gearshifter" Young, Larry Morrisey, Johnny Rawls, Rachelle Coba, Rev. Peyton's Big Damn Band, The Derek St. Holmes Blues Explosion, L.C. Ulmer, Little Joe Ayers, Rosalind Wilcox, Robert Kimbrough, Sr., Robert "Wolfman" Belfour, Guitar Mikey, All Night Long Blues Band, Big George Brock, Watermelon Slim, Guitar Dickey & the Blue Flames, Blackwater Trio, Terry "Big T" Williams, Roosevelt Roberts, Jr., Terry "Harmonica" Bean, Eric Heatherly, Robert "Bilbo" Walker, Lightnin' Malcolm & Stud, Super Chikan, and Lucious Spiller.  Whew!  Now that's a boatload of blues right there, my friends.

Jimmy "Duck" Holmes

L.C. Ulmer

Robert "Bilbo" Walker

Big George Brock

Terry "Harmonica" Bean

The activities actually started on Thursday, with live music and activies at various locations throughout Clarksdale.  One of the events leading up to the festival is a CD release party for the new Broke & Hungry Records release, Twice As Hard, a collaboration between Bentonia blues man Jimmy "Duck" Holmes and Terry "Harmonica" Bean.  Anyone who's familiar with either of these artists already knows that this is going to be a great release.  On Friday night, beginning at 5:30 PM, you will have an opportunity to get your own copy and hear the two of them perform at the legendary Red's Lounge.

On Sunday, there are even more event, including the Cat Head Mini Blues Fest at Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art, a free festival which features many of the artists featured during the precious days' activities.  Another free festival going on at the same time is the Second Street Blues Party at the Rock & Blues Museum.  If you missed somebody during Saturday's activities, you have a great opportunity to catch them on Sunday.

So there you have it.....a blues-filled weekend with something for everybody of all ages.  People from all over the world come to enjoy the blues every year.  Last year there were visitors from 53 different counties in Mississippi, 46 U.S. states, and 28 foreign countries.  One of the things that I recall from one of my first visits to Clarksdale to the Delta Blues Museum in the early 90's was the number of people who signed the guest book that were from other countries.  It amazed me that people would come all the way to Clarksdale, MS from France, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Japan, see this tiny museum that was in a side room of a library in Clarksdale (of course, now it's in a different location, but you know what I mean).  While we were visiting it, and later Stackhouse Records, there were people from France and Germany visiting at the same time.

Whether you know it or not, the blues is worldwide.  Think about you sit at home listening to the blues on your iPod or in your stereo, there's a very good chance that somewhere else on the other side of the world, somebody else is listening to the same tune.  How cool is that??!!!

Friday, April 4, 2014

New Blues For You - Spring, 2014 Edition

Last week, Friday Blues Fix discussed some classic old recordings that you might have missed the first time around.  This week we will briefly discuss some new releases that you will not want to miss.  So far, 2014 has been a treasure trove of exciting new releases.  This week, FBF will look at a half dozen of the latest and greatest that have crossed our path over the past few weeks, and hopefully, we will be looking at more in the next few weeks.  You are encouraged to check all of these new releases out because they are worthwhile listening.  As always, expanded reviews of each of these discs will be found in a forthcoming issue of Blues Bytes, the best blues review site out there, bar none.

Tweed Funk - First Name Lucky (Tweed Tone Records):  Tweed Funk's last CD, Love Is, was one of my favorites of 2012, and with good reason.....I really liked the combination of blues, soul, and funk.  I loved the horns, I loved the swagger of lead singer Smokey Holman and the funky guitar of J.D. Optekar.  I could go on and on.  It's great when you find a recording that puts a hop in your step like that one did.  So what if I tell you that First Name Lucky is even better??!!!  Well, it is!  The band recorded their latest disc after an inspiring trip to Memphis with the intent of capturing the sweaty intensity and excitement of their live performance.  With a great set of original songs and several great covers, I would have to say that they succeeded.  This set just bursts at the seams with energy and power.  If I had any musical talent whatsoever, this is the type of band and the kind of music that I would want.  This one is a keeper, folks.  If you're not familiar with Tweed Funk, this is a great place to get started.

Lisa Biales - Belle of the Blues (Big Song Music):  I've been listening to Biales, a 20-year vet of the music scene, playing bluegrass, rock, Americana, folk, and blues during that span.  Over the past couple of albums, Biales has teamed up with the Georgia Songbird, E.G. Kight, who has produced her last few discs, which have been showcases of American roots music.  Belle of the Blues has more of a focus on blues, with Kight writing most of the material, allowing Biales to focus on vocals.  She is one of the most impressive vocalists that you will hear, with amazing range and pitch, and she makes it seem almost effortless on these songs.  She's joined on this release by an outstanding band that includes guitarist Tommy Talton, keyboardist Randall Bramblett, and co-producer Paul Hornsby on piano.  This is a breathtaking release by a lady who deserves to be heard.

Jim Byrnes - St. Louis Times (Black Hen Music):  Jim Byrnes has done a lot of living in his nearly 66 years.  He lost both legs after being hit by a passing car while helping a buddy move a truck in the early 70's.  He worked for years as an actor, notably in the 80's series, Wiseguy, and Highlander:  The Series, and providing voices for several animated films and series.  However, his first love was music and during that time, he has also won acclaim as a blues musician, releasing several award-winning albums since the early 80's for Canadian labels Stony Plain and Black Hen.  His latest release pays tribute to the music of his hometown, mixing original songs and classic tunes by artists like Albert King, Chuck Berry, W.C. Handy, Lonnie Johnson, and Little Milton that are associated with St. Louis.  Byrnes' own songs work really well with his reworking of the classic tracks, and his voice is a great, gravelly mix of blues and soul.  He gets plenty of support from the extraordinary guitarist Steve Dawson (who also produced), John Hammond, and Colin James, who plays guitar on one track.  This is a nice birthday card for the city of St. Louis, which is celebrating its 250th birthday this year.

Johnny Drummer - Bad Attitude (Earwig Records):  Johnny Drummer has been wowing Chicago audiences for over 50 years, mostly in the clubs on the South and West Sides.  His smooth soul-based vocals are top notch and his songwriting is pretty original, too, as he expresses his views on love and life in general with a robust (and sometimes ribald) humor.  His songs touch on blues, soul, and funk.  How he's managed to avoid more recognition is a mystery.  This is his fourth release on Earwig Records, and he's as strong as he ever was, backed by a set of the Windy City's best musicians.  Check out Mr. Drummer and see what you, and a lot of others, have been missing.

Arthur Migliazza - Laying It Down (Hobemian Records):  This is the biggest surprise in my current stack of CDs to review.  I was not familiar with young Migliazza, who's been playing piano since he was a kid, and became interested in the blues after seeing the Jerry Lee Lewis biopic, Great Balls of Fire.  In his formative years, a piano teacher introduced him to jazz and blues, and he met Ann Rabson at a music camp.  Rabson became his mentor and was teaching classes at the music camp when he was 18.  This disc is a dream come true for blues piano fans, with Migliazza tearing through classic tunes from legends like Meade Lux Lewis, Hersal Thomas, Professor Longhair, Albert Ammons, Fats Domino, and Huey "Piano" Smith.  He also contributes four of his own tunes as well.  As if his amazingly nimble keyboard skills weren't enough, he's also an above-average vocalist, too.  If you're a piano fan, you need this disc.  Come to think of it, everybody should have this disc.  It's a rollicking ride from start to finish.

Mick Kolassa - Michissippi Mick (Swingsuit Records):  There are three reasons why you should own this disc.  (1) Proceeds from the sale of this CD.....the gross sales, in fact.....go toward a pair of worthy programs sponsored by the Blues Foundation, of which Michigan native Kolassa is a member of the Board of Directors.  The programs are the HART Foundation, which helps pay medical bills and expenses for ailing blues men and their families, and Generation Blues, a "Blues in the Schools" program that offers scholarships to young blues musicians.  (2)  It features some of Memphis' finest musicians, including producer/lead guitarist Jeff Jensen, Eric Hughes, Brandon Santini, and Victor Wainwright, backing Kolassa.  (3)  It's an excellent CD.  Kolassa, who has been making music on the Memphis scene for over two decades, is a talented songwriter, penning seven diverse tunes, and a strong vocalist.  He also offers fresh takes on the five covers included, making them seem like brand new tunes, in some cases.  Good music for a great can't ask for much more than that.

There you have it......six new releases that are well worth your time.  We'll check out a few more new ones in a couple of weeks.